Tfaddalou ‘al terrace…

February 4, 2012

…said Madame Mrad to Deedee and her guests. It had been ages since they’d been chez Madame Mrad, so she went out of her way to pamper them.

Warnink arrived with his signature bottle of pink bubbly (he went for Veuve Clicquot Rose this time), and a big bag of bread (BBB) from Bread Republic Bakery in Furn el Hayek, Ashrafieh. Shah came lugging 2 huge boxes of 961 beer! “Yee, merci kteer! La shoo azzabit halak?!” One box of Porter, a creamy chocolaty smoothness that makes me melt and left with coffee lurking on my palate. The other was a fresh batch of Red Ale, that brilliant amber colored ale with its signature refreshing splash in the first gulp ending in just the right bitterness. Zouzy strolled in with Oslo Ice cream. They have great flavors, and their vanilla will be the right companion with dessert.

Futurine, a UFO from planet Gluttonus, had heard about Madame Mrad’s cooking and Deedee’s gastronomic nonesenses. She put together a “Culinary Task Force” that she dragged with her onto her spaceship and flew to Leboland to observe their techniques. She was beamed onto Madame Mrad’s terrace with a bottle of red wine in one hand, home made guava jam in another, debs el rimman in her third hand and a bottle of henn bles liqueur (yaani, yellow holly berries) in the fourth hand! (Futurine is an alien after all, so she can have as many hands as I want!! ;-))

Her task force beamed in next. These bizarre aliens were ready to observe and document Madame Mrad and Deedee’s every move. One alien’s eye was big and round like a camera lense that ogled Madame Mrad the whole time. The other alien’s head lit up like a torch, so bright you needed sunglasses every time you turned his way! The third guy had long antennae for ears that enabled him hear things miles away.

Deedee and Madame Mrad winked at one another and smiled coyly… they were ready to put on their show.

The guests were served an apperitif, including Pimms & 7up with a splash of lemon juice, garnished with cucumber and orange slices; Campari & Soda also with a dash of lemon juice and garnished with an orange slice; and 961 beer while they nibbled on Boursin stuffed Mushrooms. These are easy to make and taste deedeelightful: choose bite size mushrooms, remove the stems and stuff the hole with Boursin cheese. The regular (garlic) flavor has enough spice and aroma in it. You could also substitute the boursin with Feta or Chevre and mix with fresh zaatar, rosemary, lemon rind, basil, I mean, just go wild with it! Then throw these babies in a pre-heated oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes until the juices have dried out (check on them regularly, akeed).

Madame Mrad announced that everyone is to be seated, “Tfaddalou ‘al tawleh“. Lunch was about to be served. She had prepared a coursed meal for them.

They started with a Carrot Ginger Orange soup… with a twist: she added pumpkin, since ’tis the season. The pumpkin gave the soup a thick hearty texture. Drizzled with coconut cream and served with a large parmesan cheese crouton.

Next came her famous Sauteed Greens with Shrimp, a mixture of chard and romaine lettuce tossed in a blend of sesame & olive oil, chopped garlic, ginger and chili; drizzled with Soy Sauce and lemon juice, season with pepper (no salt – the soy sauce should be salty enough), and throw in a handful of chopped fresh coriander at the end. Sautee the shrimp in a separate pan with garlic, ginger and a splash of white wine, then add to the green mix and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds. Toss and serve.

The first two courses were served with a crisp Italian white wine from Enoteca: Villa Antinori Bianco 2010 from Tuscany:  straw-yellow color with aromas of flowers in the nose and a fresh crispy finish.

Next Madame Mrad took out the carefully carved Lamb Chops that she’d been marinating overnight in mulberry sauce (sharab ‘l tout), a dash of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, chopped garlic, dried chilis, salt and pepper. She grilled them in a pan on a high fire so they were crisp on the outside but medium/medium-rare on the inside. In the meantime, she opened a bottle of Chateau Qanafar 2008 and decanted it, while her famous Rosemary Potatoes were baking in the oven. She slices her potatoes like chips, chops garlic and onion, drizzles olive oil, salt, pepper, and lots of rosemary – the nice curly ones which she picks from the small bushes that grow near her building.  Throw these in the oven and keep tossing so they get nice and golden crispy.

The Chateau Qanafar 2008 (which you can find at Bread Republic in Hamra) was an excellent match with the Lebanese lamb. A dark burgundy red that’s been aged in oak, this new local favorite of Deedee’s is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Syrah. The nose develops from red berries to dark cinnamon and pine forrest, ending with a ripe prune and cocoa finish.

We took a short break while Madame Mrad tossed the salad she had prepared: Fennel & Orange salad with dry roasted Pine Nuts. The combo of radish, orange, cilantro and fennel is refreshing and elegant. Toss in a handful of dry roasted pine nuts in the end. This salad with its tangy dressing is the perfect palate cleanser.

She opened a bottle of Lagrein 2009, a northern Italian red from the region of Alto Adige that you can find at Enoteca to go with the cheese. This full bodied Italian is elegant and smooth and has fine tannins with notes of blackberry. Its velvety complexion has licorice and espresso combined with clear oakiness. She picked out two simple cheeses for this early-autumn-but-still-feels-like-summer afternoon: an Egyptian Roumi and Comte. The Roumi has the subtle sharpness she wanted, and the Comte is creamy and mild. Madame Mrad serves her cheeses with dry almonds, walnuts, raisins and apricots, along with a generous spoonful of honey and a gob of that perfectly sweet and sour Guava Jam that Futurine’s space-mom had made.

It was finally time for dessert, so “bring out the champagna ya Abdo!”  For dessert, Simon’s Clove-studded Apples: 5 green apples peeled, cored, and cooked for 5 minutes in water and a dash of lemon juice. Then butter those babies up, sprinkle them with brown sugar or, better yet, massage them with honey, then prick them with rows of clove pins, place them in a pan (on aluminum foil) and cook in a pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes. You don’t want them to get too soggy. Take them out, half them, and serve each one with a generous scoop of vanilla icecream… from Oslo… get it?

The Pink Veuve, like all the Orange Lady’s fabulous concoctions, was fresh and deedeelightful with a perfect citrus twist bursting in your mouth.

Khalas, ma ba’a feena! Anjad ‘ntafakhna! Bas hallak fhimna ‘an shoo ‘am yihko,” said Futurine in her cute alien Lebanese accent.

Baad ma hkeena shee! Deedee and her friends started raging about the gastronomy scene in Leboland. Yaani, ma fee consistency, ma fee training, ma fee creativity!!  How is Leboland supposed to live up to its reputation as a tourism haven in the Middle East, when we don’t deliver the basic professional ingredients?

Most of what this country thrives on is the service industry, but unfortunately, we don’t give our servers the tools to help them do their job professionally: yaani training! For example, restaurants can have their staff taste the food and wine that they’re serving so they can at least describe it properly to clients, and hence, sell it!

Most restaurants in Leboland offer pretty much the same menu: “Baddik Rocca Parmesan walla Endive Rocquefort, Madame? We have International Cuisine.” Wallaw? How embarrassing! What happened to getting creative and trying new things? What’s wrong with your chef, gringo? It’s not all that difficult. Invest in your people! They’re what can make or break your place.

This obsession with Classic French Steak au Poivre is out and New York style Skirt Steak with Roasted Beets & Horseradish Cream is in!

That said, credit is due to those who have kept up their standards, trained their people, and still serve good food. We all know who they are. Some I’ve written about, others I will write about.

Consistency… it’s so under-rated!

The aliens had heard enough. They were ready to head back home to practice what Deedee and her friends were preaching. “May the Force be with you“, they said and got beamed back up to their spaceship and zoomed back to planet Gluttonus.

Eedu’a, eh? Nanu Nanu!

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On the way back from…

October 16, 2011

…her secret hide-out north of Beirut, the Road Runner swerved and stopped infront of Deedee’s neighborhood grocer. Oh my Bob! Right there on the pavement was a box of burgundy red beetroots with the green leaves still on them. I remember having them sautéed with kale at The Spotted Pig in NYC. So I asked the guy to help me pick out the ones with the freshest and softest greens… naturally he looked at me perplexed and asked, “Lésh madame? Shoo baddik ta’mli fiyon??”

Deedee knew that Madame Mrad would be thrilled to toss the beetroot leaves with garlic in olive oil, then add some chopped chard, romaine lettuce, and even rocca and basil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Let’s call that Deedee’s Green Medley (inspired by the Naked Chef’s Italian Style Greens).

That Medley becomes the side dish for the lamb chops that Madame Mrad’s been marinating in olive oil, garlic, chopped dried chili, rosemary, a dash of balsamic vinegar and… are you ready for this? Black Mulberry syrup! Yep! That’s right, “Sharab el tout” (while in syrup mode) is the new red wine marinade, if you will. Let them marinate for at least a couple of hours, but much better overnight if you have the time.

Next to that are Madame Mrad’s famous potatoes. This time she drops the rosemary and goes for coriander instead. Yaani “batata bi kisbra” bas bil oven. Chop garlic and onions, toss in sliced (a la chips) potatoes, drizzle olive oil, season with salt ‘n pepper, then mix in the chopped coriander and roast in the oven for about half an hour. Always check on these babies and toss them every ten minutes so they dont stick to the pan and so they cook nicely on all sides… crunchy is good here.

All we need now is a bottle of red… “Shoo ra’yik bi Chateau Qanafar?”… “Shoo? Kind’a far? Far from where?” Well, actually Khirbit Qanafar is pretty far, yaani, you have to drive all the way to the West Bekaa, after Kefraya somewhere. George Naim and his son, Eddy, have revolutionized Lebo wine. Yes, Deedee’s actually fallen in love with a Lebanese… for a change 😉

This bottle of Chateau Qanafar 2008, a Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend, which I can only find in Bread Republic Hamra, has the most transformative character I’ve experienced in a Lebo wine. The nose is cinnamon and mulberry at first. The body starts off with a lighter consistency, then morphs into medium, and finally mutates into this smooth, full bodied, well rounded palate that leaves you lingering with a dark berries and chocolate finish.

Keep your eyes out for these guys, they’re on to something.


Ya heik sufra ya bala…

December 20, 2010

…ma badda haki, atyab shi el-Libnéné… wil Armané kamein.

Deedee’s friend AL is visiting from Béreez (yaani, Paris) and a Leboland virgin. Sooooo, after dropping off the bags at Madame Mrad’s, they headed to Seza, a cute new Armenian restaurant in Mar Mikhael, (baad mafra’ el Tawlet, take the first right and walk up the street – it’s at the end of the block ál yameen). Deedee’s already been there with K & Bobba and enjoyed it. The food is good bas the service is a little off. Yaani, puhleez train your staff. They’re soooo sweet, but that’s not enough in the restaurant business.

Some of Deedee’s favorite dishes are: the red beet salad; the Itch – Armenian tabboulé; the raw meat and lentil kufta (like kibbé); the tomato salad; Su beoreg (a savory cheese mille feuille made with filo pastry); Muhammara (ground walnuts, red pepper and pomegranate molasses); Manti; Meatballs with sour cherries (a must). To drink, I prefer Arak and I pretty much recommend it, because they don’t have much of a wine list, and they neither know their wines nor how to serve them… sorry guys… stick to what you know… or train your staff!

Overall I like the feel of the place and the food isn’t bad. Seza Bistro Arménian is on Patriarch Arida Street, Mar Mikhael. For reservations: 01-570711 (closed Mondays).

The next day we toured Batroun and Byblos. You can never see enough sunsets, and I love how the color of the sun changes with every season. We sat down to watch the pale yellow planet sinking at Bab el Mina in the old port in Jbeil while sipping on a bottle of Chateau Musar Cuvée Réservée Blanc, a white made with 100% Obeidé grapes, an indigenous Lebo grape variety, light golden color, dry, light and not too acidic (which our whites tend to be). The palate is nuts, herbs and green apple, ending with lemon zest. Nothing to right home about but potable when considering the price-quality ratio on their wine list.

We ordered the Fish Kibbé, Tajin, Aubergine Salad (not wow), Calamari Provencial (soft and juicy, nice), and Batata Harra (a little too oily). Overall it’s mostly the ambience about this place that does it for me. Bab el Mina Seafood Restaurant, Byblos. For reservations: 09-540475.

Saturday we had brunch with Cha & Z at Tawlet Souk el Tayeb. Deedee’s third time since she’s been back, so yes it IS one of my favorites. Authentic, consistent quality, an intriguing variety, and service isn’t bad either… considering you’re serving yourself most of the time, as Z noted. For the brunch buffet they offer Fatteh, Foul, Eggs with Awarma (cured beef) or sumak, kibbé nayyé (raw meat with cracked wheat – burghol) yay shoo taybé, a variety of salads, mtabbal batinjén (aubergine mash), Lahmé b’ájeen, Chicken Wings à la Provencial, Grilled Meat, cheese and labné… to name a few! Think that’s enough for you? Then késs (or more) árak… dessert (if you still have room for it) w finjén ahwé at the end. Fun, highly recommended, w sahtein.

Later we headed to Tamatim’s new apartment with a bottle of Ruinard that AL had brought with her. Claiming to be the oldest house of champagne, this bottle of bubbly, straw yellow color, fine bubbles and a palate of pink grapefruit and vanilla. Later, off to Beirut Art Center for a silent auction fundraiser. They were serving Louis Roederer Champagne, which Deedee has been looking to try. Deedeelirious! All I gotta say is: Don’t Drink and Bid!

Next day, after a stroll through the ruins of Baalbeck, Deedee and AL drove to Hamra for a couple of beers and a manti at Regusto, in the Hamra Square Center. Later they dropped by Dany’s for a G&T and staggered back to Madame Mrad’s to crash.

Merci pour ta visite, ya AL, mbasatna. À bientôt!


Shoo? Sporting? Yalla…

September 12, 2010

… yaani, you know when you go somewhere so often and you keep saying: “I’ll write about it baadein”? Maybe you don’t… bas that’s how many times I’ve said that about Sporting Beach Club. Guess it’s those closest to the heart that have to wait… ma heik?

Though the place itself is somewhat shabby and they just paint over the mess to make it look good, they do try to make some improvements to the facility. The view is ‘fadstastic’ (especially at sunset), the food hits the spot, and the service… well… if you’re as frequent a guest as “we” are, then the service is ‘azeem… “tikram ‘ainik, madame”.

Here’s what Deedee likes to nibble on at The Deck Café: Tabboulé (bala basal), Eggplant Feluka (fried eggplant slices with mint leaves and a special labneh spread), hummos with pine nuts or balila, Hindbé, Batata bi Kizbra (potatoes with coriander), Batrakh (more like cured fish served with a thin slice of garlic on top and to die for!!). If we’re in the mood for seafood, it’s either the oven baked Loukoz (sea bass), Bizri (fried tiny fish or sardines, if you will – only in season), fried Sultan Ibrahim, Mallifa, and/or Farridi (different kinds of smaller sized ‘Lebanese’ fish… yaani, byihko Libnéné).

There’s a lot more on the menu, but Deedee’s recommendation is: Stick to the Lebo food and don’t go “International cuisine”.

They have a full bar and are generous with their portions. Wine wise, it’s the usual Ksara and Kefraya. If I’m having wine, I’ll go for the Kefraya Blanc de Blanc and, as I said before, I’ll only drink that with ice cubes in my glass… its the only way that wine goes down with me. Arak is another option. You can also sip on a Campari Soda or a Gin & Tonic at sunset… they’re refreshing and fun to drink while you’re waiting for the big orange ball to sink into Le Grand Bleu.

Sporting Club in Manara also has two other restaurants: The Feluka Restaurant, which serves the same food as the Deck Café; and the Maharaja Indian Restaurant, which I haven’t been to in a while, but last time the food was not bad.

Entry to the swimming club is LBP 26,000 for adults. For reservations call 01-742481.


Ma bsaddi’ shoo wal’ané…

September 7, 2010

…bi Byblos (yaani, Jbeil). That whole yard area in the old souk has transformed into a lively outdoors restaurant and bar ‘quartier’ – a bit too many people for Deedee, but I’m sure others would enjoy the atmosphere.

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with M & G at é Café in the Eddé Yard, and went again last Saturday with R. I gotta say the food in this place is quite impressive. A couple of my long gone friends started that café about 8 years ago when the souk in Byblos was a quaint and quiet area.

We started with a bottle of Chateau Saint Thomas 2005 (from Clos St. Thomas), pepper and dark berry nose, tannic with a smooth coffee and black/redberry palate, this Cab/syrah/merlot threesome is full bodied and dry so you want to drink water (preferrably sparkling) with it – one of Deedee’s preferred Lebo wines – not necessarily this vintage, but in general their Chateau is a winner. I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking any of Clos St. Thomas’ other wines, though.

For dinner, R and I shared the Salade de Melon au Jambon de Parme – large ‘new-moon’ melon slices with the parma ham wrapped around middle. Next we shared the Salade de Magret de Canard Fumé – a mixed green salad with smoked duck slices and chunks of fresh strawberry in a tangy balsamic reduction dressing… delicious!

I had the Entrecôte (medium rare, akeed), even though I was dying for the Côte de Boeuf but its for two and despite my big appetite for meat, I’d’ve preferred that much meat raw and in human form! It came with baked potato chunks and mushroom sauce… drop the sauce and ask for mustard – much better with the meat. Last time, I had the Filet (medium rare) which was very tender and just melted in my mouth… shoo taybé! 

R had the Char Grilled Sea Bass which came with finely chopped grilled veggies. I could tell she loved it cuz there was no meat left on that fish!

On the way out, we saw a deer on a spit at another restaurant! Deedee loves venison and can’t wait to go back and try that place.

For reservations at é Café: 09-542224 or 03-163316


Oh-no-lio…

August 25, 2010

Was how we felt at Olio in Gemmayze last week. We were 6 and hungry. You’d think our first waiter, ‘Fido Dido’, may have gotten the notion that we were somewhat sophisticated diners, considering our style of ordering and all the special requests we had… but nooooo, this little twat was clueless. 

So was their manager who, at one point in the evening, was surprised to hear from his staff that they ran out of ice!?!? Uh, pardon me, but aren’t you supposed to be ‘on top of things’? Puhleez Istéz, get your act together and do your job!  Eventually, Fido Dido gets replaced but “Eager-to-Please-Sari”, who tried hard to repair the damage…

We started with the cherry tomato and mushroom Bruschette (pl). The toppings on each were fine, but the bread was chewey. ‘Afwan, a bruschetta is about the bread too, eh?! Otherwise, we’d have ordered sautéed mushrooms or a cherry tomato salad on the side.

Then came the Grilled Marinated Calamari… here’s a hint Olioliolio: if you use baby calamari they’ll be more tender and taste loads better than the big chewey ones you serve… wait a minute, did I already use chewey to describe something? Hmmm… “There’s a pattern here, but wouldn’t call it consistency though,” said Deedee, tongue in cheek.

Marinated Octopus… Asian marination? Focus iza bitreed! Either stick to Italian or… stick to Italian!

The Grilled Vegetables were what Deedee would call 3B – boring, bland, and bad!

‘Pizza-wise’ (usually I like their Bresaola pizza, and I’d actually recommend that – comes with parmesan shavings and rocca) but this time we had the Bianca – goat cheese, walnuts, sundried tomatoes, olives, rosemary – though it sounds like its got potential, this pizza’s been dry every time I’ve had it (sorry G, I know you like it, bas… nashshaf ree’éh!) 

We ordered some specials, one of which was the Burrata – fresh mozzarella with a creamy inside. I have to say that was the best thing I had that night. Too bad it was the only thing the Chef at Olio didn’t make!!

The Linguini Mare was mushy… yaani, they cooked the life out of the tomatoes, pasta and seafood, ya ‘aibishshoom!

The Shrimp Risotto tasted like it was made with Maggi bouillon cubes (wallaw?!?) and the grilled shrimp was decor on the side of the dish.

We drained all that with a bottle of Chateau Kefraya – Blanc de Blanc , which I can only drink if I have at least two ice cubes in my glass… that said, I won’t describe it, so check out the link.

“Eager Sari” offered dessert on the house, which was sweet and that’s why he got a good tip. Chocolate Fondant; Lemon Sorbet in a hollowed lemon… bad kitsch; and Champagne and Strawberries Sorbet… trying too hard are we?

All that said, I have to say that I have had better meals at Olio… not often, not consistently, but their salad’s and pizzas aren’t that bad. The last time I was there service was just as appalling as Fido Dido’s service. I remember complaining to that same manager, but it seems he has recurring “unprofessional manager” syndrome.

For reservations or delivery: Gemmayzeh 01-56 39 39; Hamra 01-74 11 33.


So, who’s Oscar and how wild is he?

June 16, 2010

Went to this new bar that opened up in Hamra (opposite Danny’s) called Oscar Wilde. Not sure how people come up with names for their bars, I mean, I wonder if they’ve even read any of Oscar Wilde’s work.

A new bar so the staff is a little confused (did I ever mention training before?). Beer wise, they only serve Almaza and Corona, and for a bar named after an Irish writer you’d think they’d have beer on draft…. Nope!

Before that, we were at Regusto in Hamra Plaza (01-752571). The decor is nothing to write home about but you gotta love that place: cheap, generous and down to earth. I usually have draft beer (Heineken) and order their Labné with it. BUT you know what’s really good if you’re hungry is their Manté (an Armenian dish that’s similar to the Lebanese Shish Barak, but a million times better).

Monday I had lunch with L at Gruen in Gefinor Center, Hamra… For Bob’s sake how do you pronounce that? The way its spelled, I’d say its the color green in German (when you write it without an umlaut), and guess what? I’m right! It’s named after a Viennese architect (Viktor Grünbaum) who moved to the States, hence the name and spelling change (Victor Gruen).

Gruen’s decor is minimalist(ish) and elegant – both indoors and outdoors), the food is creative and actually consistent in quality, they have delicious ice cream (Oslo). Unfortunately, the quality of the service has fluctuated. There’s one server who I find excellent, but he wasnt there that day. Gruen ladies, train your boys.

L and I both had the Chinese Salad (me with chicken, L with shrimp), fresh combo of shreded veggies with an asian sauce. They also have these fun Rolls (using Mar’ouk bread) that are nice to share when you’re a table of 4 or more. We drowned that with two glasses of Ksara Blanc de Blanc… I wish they had more choices for their open wine.

Gruen is open for Lunch and Dinner Monday – Saturday and for Brunch on Sunday. For reservations: 01-737344